Ruff Kutz

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Skiz Fernando, Jr. founded the groundbreaking WordSound label in the mid-'90s and almost immediately established illbient as a genre, bringing together elements of dub, industrial, ambient, and hip-hop at its murkiest and most experimental. Fernando worked under a variety of pseudonyms, including Slotek, Wordsound I-Powa, and the Ill Saint, but has been most prolific under the name Spectre. In between the release of 1997's The Second Coming and 1999's The End (as well as both excellent Slotek full-lengths released those same years), Spectre released a limited mixtape called Ruff Kutz, which was a spotlight for vinyl-only WordSound sublabel Black Hoodz, which released an early 10" by Antipop Consortium, as well as the only official release of the Jungle Brothers' mythical Crazy Wisdom Masters project. Fernando's down-pitched voice guides this collection of downbeat yet relaxed grooves, presenting raw dubplates and freestyles from Sensational, Mr. Dead, and the Jungle Brothers. As with releases by those artists and other MCs on the WordSound label, there are brooding atmospheres and dark imagery, but it never truly feels terrifying, just laid-back and humorously grim. A sample of Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Boogie" at the beginning of the tape's second side gives the song's "get down, get down!" refrain a new meaning. The tape ends with "Stolen Moments," produced under Fernando's alias the Eye, and originally released as a remix of Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart's worldbeat project Planet Drum. Fernando states that this tape is "strictly for the heads, or should I say hoods," and given the limited release of the original cassette, this mix may have originally been intended for hardcore fans only, but Bill Kouligas' experimental label PAN gave the mix a long-overdue vinyl reissue in 2015. The wider release of this recording puts this captured-in-time moment into a new perspective, as Spectre, WordSound, and the '90s illbient scene in general have sometimes been overlooked as an important link in the development of dubstep and other subsequent styles of underground bass-heavy music.

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